The Indian Army’s first Field Marshal, Sam Manekshaw, was on Friday given the final salute at a state funeral and laid to rest with full military honours in Tamil Nadu.
The last rites were performed according to Zoroastrian customs and Manekshaw was buried in a Parsi graveyard, close to his wife’s grave, to the boom of a 17-gun salute.
Surprisingly, neither Defence Minister A.K. Antony nor any of the three service chiefs attended the funeral, leaving several serving and retired officers astounded. Defence Ministry sources said Antony couldn’t make it due to a string of prior political engagements. However, he did have a farewell message for Independent India’s best-known soldier. Lauding the Field Marshal’s “rare knack of motivating jawans” and being “a man of ideas and action by leading from the front in the 1971 war”, the minister said his demise had left a void that would be hard to fill. “The nation has lost a great soldier, a true patriot and a noble son.”
Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju was assigned the task of representing the government at the funeral. Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor, on an official visit to Russia, conveyed his condolences. An army official said, “Lieutenant General Milan Naidu, the vice-chief, represented the army chief and the entire army fraternity at the funeral.”
Defence officials could not convincingly explain why Admiral Sureesh Mehta, chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, or Air Chief Fali Homi Major did not attend the funeral. “Though we saw it coming, it was with a sense of disbelief that I received news of the sad demise… He will be remembered as a revered leader of the Indian armed forces and of the nation,” said Air Chief Marshal Major in his condolence message.
A retired major general said the minister and service chiefs may have had prior and pressing engagements but it comes across as strange that none turned up for the funeral.
With inputs from PTI, Udhagamandalam.